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The brutal side of Cambodia

The brutal side of Cambodia

I SAW a man brutally beaten by a lynch mob last week. He didn't die: he was still

alive when an ambulance finally got him to a hospital, but that wasn't for lack of

trying by his would-be executioners.

They didn't seem like the thugs you'd expect to be doing this sort of thing: they

were tomorrow's painters and sculptors, students at the Fine Arts School, and the

kids who live on my street.

I'm taking a stroll through the school on a sunny Thursday morning to brunch at the

FCCC on the river front when I come upon what at first looks like a bunch of students

gathered around a playground scuffle.

Then I see a couple of westerners in the thick of it. One of them, AFP photographer

Rob Elliot, is having a heated exchange with the guy next to him.

I push through the crowd towards them. "What's going on?" I shout. But

I have that sinking feeling that I know the answer even before Rob's reply: "They're

killing a thief."

Apparently the thief had used a gun to try to steal a motorcycle. The westerners

came when they heard shots.

The thief is on the ground in fetal position, covered in blood, trying to protect

his head. He probably isn't yet 20 years old, about the age of his attackers.

The youths crowd around him in a circle and take turns. One runs up and kicks him

then retreats, another comes up and belts him with a stick. I put my arm out to stop

the guy next to me hitting him with a lump of wood. He defers, almost politely, but

simultaneously a youth runs up from another direction holding a rock high with both

hands and pounds it into the thief's head.

He lies there, motionless, his skull surely shattered.

Then suddenly he leaps to his feet and starts staggering away through the crowd,

three metres, four metres, before they bring him down again.

And the police have arrived. A vanload of them, maybe 10; at least one has an AK-47.

But they park 30 metres away and are plainly reluctant to intervene. They shuffle,

they dawdle, they stroll towards the melee.

The head cop pushes through the crowd, which stops its assault and falls back. The

cop stands briefly over the thief, now unmoving and apparently dead, then turns and

walks away. And the mob resumes its beating.

I walk away too, sickened at the mob's violence, sickened at the police's failure

to put a stop to it.

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